I wrote this for me…Someone who had a planned Close Of Service. But I am also writing this for all the volunteers whose time was cut short by the evacuation. Leaving site and having to say goodbye, no matter if it was planned or unplanned, is truly one of the hardest parts of a Volunteers service. I feel for you all that had to pack and say goodbye within a day.
I truly, truly cannot imagine.
It was a robust sensation.
“Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry” in my head, again and again and again.
It was this tightening sensation in my chest.
“I’m going to have a panic attack” in my head, again and again and again.
It’s my last day.
Yesterday I was able to say bye to everyone while keeping my cool. I was able to laugh and smile with people and keep the conversation light while deep down all I wanted to do was cry uncontrollably but I held it together. I even stayed up late with the family and I kept it together.
But…it’s here now.
The ball of sorrow in my chest was gaining strength.
My appetite disappeared.
My body felt anxious and twitchy.
I don’t want to do this.
I went home and put myself to sleep, twisting and turning back and forth all night. My mind was racing, then without even an alarm, my eyes open before 6 am.
I stared at my ceiling and had this numb sensation engulfing my body.
Tears started to well up in my eyes as I stared at the ceiling.
This is it.
I am leaving my Ethiopian life today. The town that gave me so much joy, the people who took me in and loved me like their own.
This is it.
Today is the day that I have to say goodbye to my compound family.
I sat myself up and began to pack the remaining materials in my house. I could feel the tears sway back and forth, wanting to spill over my eyelids.
I don’t want to do this.
After cleaning my house and changing my clothes, the mother (Ima) came to call me for breakfast and told me to sit in the kitchen with them as they finished preparing. I numbly walked over following her orders.
I went in and sat on top of a jerry can and I watched Zara, Fakiya, and Ima finish making coffee for the last time. I watched them and the thought rolled into my mind. “I am never going to see this again…take it in Isabella”. It was then that my body, that my soul, decided it could no longer hold itself.
The seams tore with fierceness as I laid my elbows on my knees hunched over, face looking down, sobbing. Tears were streaming from my eyes more than I ever thought imaginable. My whole body felt like it was convulsing.
The sadness, the pure sadness was taking over my body.
It came as no surprise that the kitchen became quiet and all that was heard was the sniffling from the girls and myself. Then Ima in her scratchy mid cry voice says “Izzy don’t cry, Izzy don’t cry”.
We all sat in silence for a bit and once we finally recovered we decided to proceed to the next house to eat breakfast.
Ima walked with me to the house as I kept my eyes pasted to the floor. If I looked anyone in the eyes, it was going to set me off all over again. The ball of pain was just starting to explode, and I knew more eruptions were to come.
Us girls sat in the back room gearing up to eat breakfast. All of us circled around a large plate eating injera and shiro. My stomach was closed off. There was not a single bit of appetite. It was hard to look at anyone even when we were all sitting so close together. The entire meal I found myself holding back my tears. Everyone was constantly telling me to “Eat” like they do and saying “Izzy you need to eat you have a long ride ahead of you.”
But I couldn’t.
I just couldn’t. I looked up at them and locked eyes with these girls that I had grown to adore so much.
Ima then took a ball of food and said a prayer.
She prayed for me to have a safe trip home.
She prayed for me to be rejoined with my parents.
She prayed for my happiness and wellbeing.
She prayed for us to one day see each other again.
Then she reached over and fed me with her hand. I had tears cascading over my eyelids as I sat back and ate and laid my cheek on my upright knee.
“I can’t do this” I thought.
Soon the coffee was served and drank. Before I knew it, it was time to go to my house to take a family picture. The family rose and slowly started to make the trek to my house. I walked in the back to make sure everything was packed and in the front door came Kadija. My sweet Kadija who I had grown so close with in the past 6 months. We both paused in our tracks and locked eyes. Her eyebrows raised up and her eyes swam with tears. “Don’t cry” I gently told her in my own shaking voice as I hunched over putting my hands on my knees. Here it comes again. Wave after wave like it was never going to stop.
In walked Fakiya, Ima, Zara, Wozifa, Juarre, Haasna, Kanzi, Ajaara, Abas, and Hardha Tomkin. All the girls. We sat together in my house letting our tears wash our faces. Hardha Tomkin who I had also grown so close with walked over to me standing in the corner, tears streaming down my face and said “Izzy come here, lay your head on my shoulder” and wrapped her skinny arms around me. She went on to tell me that it was going to be okay, that we will see each other again, she told me to be happy that I was going to see my family again. She told me not to worry. She kept talking as I laid my head on her shoulder and shut my eyes to the world. I held on to her like she was my lifeline. I wanted to stay in her warm embrace for eternity. I never wanted to let go of her. I felt my body becoming heavy, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Tears upon tears.
“I can’t do this”
The brothers came up outside of my house to grab my belongings, they all had to walk away to take their own time processing me leaving.
It was as if a death had occurred.
There was so much commotion that people from outside of our compound were coming up asking what was happening as it was impossible for everyone to have known I was leaving.
Suddenly..It was time to leave.
Saabit came to get me as he was going to take me all the way to Jimma.
So everyone filed out of my house and I lagged behind.
I stood in my now empty house looking around at the bare walls and I felt a crushing sensation in my chest.
This was my dear house. The house made out of mud and wood. The house that I made my home and cherished so much. This was goodbye. The wave of pain was resurfacing as I stepped out of my house for the last time.
That house was my home.
I stepped out and saw Konjo laying down outside the back of my house. “Konjo” I yelled. She looked up with me with probably the saddest expression I have seen her make and then slowly moved her head back onto her paws.
“Im so sorry” I thought.
The brothers stood with tears in their eyes holding my bags and it was time for me to officially say bye to the women of my compound as they were not going to be going with me to the bus.
I looked at Ima and she turned away hunching over towards the wall. “Ima” I called. She looked at me with her pain struck beady eyes as if hugging me goodbye was going to be too painful. I slowly made my way through each family member trying to take photos in my memory of these amazing people. Zara, Shito, Tomkin, Kadija, Ima, Hardha Tomkin, Kanzi I told them I loved them, I told them Id come back, I squatted down to Ajaara and she remained quiet and expressionless with her big brown eyes and I grabbed her cheeks and gave her big kisses as I did with her baby brother Abas.
As I walked away from my house down the front of our compound I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. Saabit was at my side holding on to my arm to keep me upright.
Everything in my being wanted to turn around and run back to their loving embrace. I hunched over as I felt like gagging. My body felt like it was malfunctioning. Like it couldn’t take the pain anymore. Saabit held on to me with his own tears gushing down his face. “Don’t cry Izzy” he repeated through gasps.
I met Juarre, Haasna, and Wozifa on my way outside of the compound onto the main road. Looking into their eyes all I could think was “I’m sorry”. I’m so sorry to be leaving. I’m so sorry I dont have more time.
I’m so sorry.
I walked down the main road of town with a crew of people behind me, all escorting me to the bus. I felt like I was blacking out. The pain of looking at everything for the last time was ravaging my insides. My eyes swollen, and cheeks stained with tears. I looked around with disbelief that I was never coming back.
This was the last time I would see all of this.
Saabit and I met Abeba and Melat at the health center who wanted to come to Limmu with me. “Are you alright” Abeba asked hurriedly.
“No” I replied.
We then proceeded to get on the bus and I said bye to the remaining brothers. Mammad who held me tightly with tears streaming down his face. I sunk down in my seat next to Fakiya and covered my face with both hands.
“I can’t do this”
I kept my face buried the whole ride. Not wanting to have to deal with any questions and arrived in Limmu and there I once again had to say goodbye to my best friends of Abeba and Fakiya.
“Just go” said Abeba between sobs. The quicker…the better.
My heart was already frayed and this goodbye was the final thread.
My heart felt broken.
I slid into the minibus seat next to the window and Saabit sat beside me and I stared outside the window watching my world disappear behind me. The further we drove, the more it felt like a hole was being carved in my heart.
I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.
I had no idea my heart could hurt this much.
My heart physically hurt.
I had no idea sorrow could make you crumble like this.
My body didn’t want to stand upright.
Oh my Chime family..
My Chime friends.
my Chime life..